Chapter One

It was a day like any other. I remember that. I woke up with the sun shining down into my eyes, bursting through the simple white curtains that I had thrown up across the green walls of my dorm-room. I winced, Sitting up in bed, before checking the time. 8:02 - morning, of course. Earlier than I had hoped, but later than I had been able to sleep in for the past few months.. I stretched in the small space, glancing out the window for a moment to wave at our neighbor as he slowly dragged the wheeled trash-can back to his driveway. Another day in rural America. Nothing happening, nothing lost, nothing gained.

I sighed, rubbing my eyes as I glanced at my laptop, still set up on the cheap wooden desk that I'd bought from walmart. I think it had been brown.

THere was no point in checking- news had been the same for the past three weeks. Case reports from the pandemic were continuing to drop- the Vaccine had been working, but the riots had been relentless ever since the crash back in 21, but thankfully, they hadn't hit here too hard.

"What can it hurt to check…"

I knew what the news was going to say the moment I opened chrome.

"The release of the new game Sword Art Online has swept the nation of japan- the location of its first release-"

I flicked on to the next tab

"Only one-thousand copies remain in stores, and that's with the few distributors that were able to get ahold of them opening at only 7:00 Am- and as you can see, people are lined up for-"

"Sales of nerve-gear virtual reality helmets have sailed through the roof over the past week, and that isn't changing now- with the company- owned by the genius creator of the first VR MMORPG, Akihiko Kayaba, looking to make insane profits from the sale of their two most popular products."

I shut the laptop, gritting my teeth as I slung a tattered backpack I'd been hauling around since I'd graduated. Its right strap was the only thing holding it together, it's threadbare worn nylon cloth already disintegrating. I stuffed a notebook and my spanish culture textbook into my bag, and growled. Glancing once at the computer before I stepped out of my room into the main area of the apartment I shared with my brother.

He was, to my surprise, already up, tossing me a pancake which I nearly dropped.

"Did you see? " He was ecstatic. "They released it today! Man I wish they had a distributor here!"

I snorted. "Here? In little middle of no-where wherever it is that we've ended up? Yeah, sure, maybe in twenty years, if we're lucky."

"Aw, don't be so pessimistic, you know that video games spread to stores faster than that- In fact, I bet walmart will be selling it before the end of the month."

"Yeh, deje de hablar hermanito- We won't be able to afford it anyway."

He sighed, glancing off towards his own laptop. We hadn't even been able to afford the oculus rift, and it's array of games or successor devices- nerve gear, which directly interfaced with the mind and gave you a true virtual experience?

Only in our dreams.

"We sure could use the escape though, given how everything has gone down over the past few years."

I nodded, saying nothing. The country had taken a turn for the south a long- long time ago. The recession- a second depression, really, if we were honest, hadn't let up yet, and the few of us who had jobs considered ourselves lucky. THose of us that could continue going to school?

Well, that was a miracle in and of itself.

"I'll see you after work little brother- stay safe, don't do anything stupid." I slugged him in the shoulder- just lightly, and adjusted my back-pack, glancing forlornly at the sword leaning against the wall. Not for the first time, I resisted the temptation to bring the familiar weapon along, no one would want a class, no one could afford a class, as much as I loved teaching.

No one had money to spare for frivolous pursuits like martial arts and swordsmanship in this country.

I saluted one last time.

"Take care Ben- I'll be home from the library around five, as usual."

"Don't stress yourself too much brother, we'll get our chance, I'm sure of it."

I did my best to smile at him.

"We'll form our own guild and everything." I told him, before turning away and making my way down the stairs, skipping down them to the old bike that lay chained to the railing. The key fit into the lock- with difficulty, and with a grace that came only from practice, I slung a leg over the seat and set off down the road.

I remember pedaling, the endless, monotonous sound of my chain whirring and of the worn tires of my bike humming against the broken asphalt as I avoided potholes that dotted the road.

Sure- make America great again- tell that to the pandemic and the people who decided that burning storefronts was the best way to deal with it.

I remember stopping at a light, and being confused when there was a vibrating in my pocket, my phone buzzing.

I pulled it out, brow furrowed as I read a message from a number that I had deleted only three months ago-

And then there was only pain, as something slammed into me from behind, and I flew forward into the intersection.

There was the deep, blaring horn of a semi- and the sight of something large and white bearing down upon me.


THere was nothing.